Despite his claim to have stopped the boom-slump cycle being refuted, Gordon Brown still thinks he can stop the depression getting worse.
There was a sketch in “The Two Ronnies” years ago which now comes irresistibly to mind. Ronnie Corbett played the sucker, the naïve innocent who had already bought a large black lump of “moon-rock” – from the coalman. The same man had now sold him “an Argentinian racing pigeon”, which was without any question an obvious and unmistakable duck. Ronnie Barker’s character desperately tried to get him to acknowledge the fact, without success. The more the details about the transaction came out, the less doubt there could have been.
“It’s got webbed feet, and goes quack quack.” – “It’s a duck!”
“No, really – it did escape, but I caught it again.” “Where did you catch it?” “On the duck-pond.” “It’s a duck!”
“No honestly, it’s got a name and everything.” “What’s its name?” “Donald.” “It’s a duck!”
It’s a slump
It’s exactly the same now with the present crash of the economy. It’s a slump!
Politicians and journalists call it a downturn, a credit crunch, a bubble bursting, a few greedy bankers getting it wrong, or a problem with American sub-prime mortgages. It’s a slump!
Lord Myners, the “City Minister” in the present Government (Observer, 25 January), said it was “a correction back towards an equilibrium”. It’s a slump!
Gordon Brown (BBC Ceefax, 26 January) claimed it was “the difficult birth-pangs of a new global order”. It’s a slump!
Gordon Brown again, in an interview on TV’s Today programme (23 January): “It’s a global banking crisis . . . It’s quite different from anything that we’ve dealt with before.” No, it isn’t, it’s a slump!
Boom and bust
It might be worthwhile reminding ourselves of what all this boom and bust actually means. In a capitalist society, the whole power of the state’s propaganda machine – press, radio, television, pulpits, government pronouncements, everything – is geared to one all-encompassing end: that the inescapable fate of the working class is to spend their entire working lives labouring for the benefit of the owning class. When nearly all the work force has knuckled down to this unavoidable destiny, it is called a boom. But every so often problems occur in the smooth functioning of this system; and they have occurred every so often ever since we’ve had capitalism. And when that happens, large numbers of the working class, despite having been brainwashed from early childhood into believing that there is no way to run society other than producing surplus value for the owning class – large numbers of them are then told they will not even be allowed to fulfil this divine decree, to work for the capitalists. On the one side, the work is obviously there to be done – food must be produced, clothing must be made, houses must be built – and all the raw materials are there, ready and waiting, or easily able to be produced. And on the other side, there are people desperately wanting to eat food, and to protect themselves from the weather with clothing and houses and so on: but where the owning class cannot see exactly how to make a profit out of it, then nobody is allowed to grow the food, make the clothes, build the houses, and all the rest of it. And it’s called a slump.
Then along comes Gordon Brown. Despite all the airy-fairy talk, all the fine-sounding speeches in which he even had the nerve to talk about “socialism”, all the hot air by which he was able to build his career in student politics, then on the back benches of the House of Commons, and finally as a leading member of the Government – despite all this, he then took over the job of running capitalism. Immediately he began to claim that he was bringing in enormous improvements. The working class would still have to devote themselves to producing surplus value for the owners; but at least they would be allowed to do it, without the threat of the sack, and then long months or years on the sidelines, forcibly prevented from doing any of the jobs which obviously need to be done, wasting away in idleness. Gordon Brown was going to stop all these downturns, or recessions, or depressions, or slumps. No more boom and bust!
For years Brown announced to the House of Commons, to the Labour Party conferences, to anyone who would give him a platform, that he had at last transformed capitalism. From now on, there would be no more slumps: it would be just like Basil Brush, “boom, boom!” and boom again. But capitalism goes on its own sweet way, ignoring the posturings of the politicians and all their promises. Ed Balls, Brown’s close ally, says the economic situation is the worst “for over 100 years”, which is a bit sad for the Labour Government, after nearly twelve years in power. So now the ducking and diving begins. Repeatedly Brown ignored the demands that he recant or apologize for what has now been revealed to be so much empty bombast. Finally, driven into a corner, he produced a lame apology: “I actually said ‘No more Tory boom and bust’ ” (Daily Mail, 11 October 2008).
Well, the statistics are that Brown boasted about ending “boom and bust” some eighteen times since 1997, and once, certainly, he linked this “boom and bust” specifically to the Tory party. He said to the 2000 Labour Party conference: “We will not put hard won economic stability at risk. No return to short-termism. No return to Tory boom and bust. Why did the Tory party give Britain twenty years of stop-go, twenty years of boom and bust? It is Labour that is now the party for stability and growth."
So there you are – according to this speech it was only “Tory boom and bust” that he was getting rid of. As if Labour boom and bust would satisfy everybody! But over and over again Brown has claimed that it is boom and bust as such that he has ended for ever. If he meant – when he asserted “I actually said ‘No more Tory boom and bust’ ” – that he always said that, then the unfortunate fact is that any such implication is simply untrue. Apparently Brown’s famous “moral compass”, which he “learned from his mother and father”, did not seem to work this time. Let us recall a few of the things which he “actually said”.
A new economic framework
Gordon Brown’s first pre-budget report, 1997: “For over 40 years our economy has an unenviable history, under governments of both parties, of boom and bust. So, against a background of monetary uncertainty and instability in the global economy, we set about establishing a new economic framework to secure long-term economic stability and put an end to the damaging cycle of boom and bust.” So if it was “under governments of both parties”, it wasn’t only “Tory boom and bust”, was it?
Gordon Brown’s speech to the British Chambers of Commerce national conference, April 2000: “The government has created a new economic framework to avoid the historic British problem – the violence of the repeated boom and bust cycles of the past.”
Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party conference, 2004: “No longer the boom-bust economy”.
Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party conference, 2005: “Why has it been that at every point since 1997 faced with the Asian crisis, the IT collapse, a stock exchange crash, an American recession, last year a house price bubble, this year rising world oil prices, why has it been that at every point since 1997 Britain uniquely has continued to grow? In any other decade, a house price bubble would have pushed Britain from boom to bust.” So if that would have happened “in any other decade”, Brown was again making the point that it wasn’t only “Tory boom and bust”.
Gordon Brown’s budget speech, 2006: “As I have said before, Mr Deputy Speaker, ‘No return to boom and bust’.”
Gordon Brown’s budget speech, 2007: “We will never return to the old boom and bust.”
So Gordon Brown wasn’t actually being accurate when he said it was only “Tory boom and bust” he had got rid of. Yet at each General Election, many voters solemnly believe the politicians’ assertions that this time, capitalism is going to be run for the benefit of all. But it never does. It can’t.